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Race as a Social Construction in the US

The characteristics developed by the Census Bureau, whites include persons who belong to any people of Europe, the Near and Middle East, and North Africa by their origin. This category consists of those who, during the survey, identified their race as “white” or identified themselves as Irish, German, Italian, Poles, Lebanese, or Arabs. Blacks (or African Americans) are recognized by those who belong to any group of African peoples and during the census identified themselves as “black,” “African American,” Kenyans, Nigerians, or Haitians.

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What the Census Might Have Called Me

A special place in the results of the 2010 Census is occupied by data on the Hispanic population. Each of the respondents was asked to determine whether he belongs to the Hispanic group. The questionnaire used terms such as “Spanish,” “Spanish origin,” and “Latinos,” which were considered equivalent. Some respondents identified themselves in all three cases, although they had the opportunity to choose only one of them.

Those who attributed themselves to the Hispanic population or “Latino” could designate their belonging to certain groups of this category: “Mexicans,” “Puerto Ricans,” and “Cubans.” Moreover, the respondents who identified themselves as ” Another Hispanic, Latino, Spanish origin” consider their country of origin either Spain or the countries of Central or South America (Prewitt, 2018). It should be noted that each respondent could determine his or her lineage both by kinship line, and by place of birth or birth of parents, or by place of residence prior to arrival in the USA.

The Census Bureau draws particular attention to the fact that persons who classify themselves as Hispanic may belong to any race. According to the 1970 Census, most probably, I might have been characterized in the category “All other free persons” due to the fact that I am a Latina female. By the most recent 2010 Census, I have been characterized as an “Another Hispanic, Latino, Spanish origin.”

Social Constructs

Attempting to determine race biologically, with references to some phenotypic qualities, encounters at least two difficulties. First, phenotypic differences are relative (Feliciano, 2016). It is impossible to determine solely on biological grounds where exactly the border of the race should be. As a result, a person who is considered phenotypically “black” in the United States can be perceived phenotypically “white” in Jamaica. Secondly, people differ from each other in many ways – from hair color to palm size and shape of nails.

The concept of race constantly undergoes changes over time and has no common definition for all researchers. The main difference between 1970 and 2010 Censuses lies in the expanded representation of non-White ethnicities, such as African-American and Latino people. The given two categorizations are different in terms of recognizing other ethnicities, whereas they are similar regarding the racial background classification. However, the biggest similarity is the use of racial background for classification, which is the product of the social perception.

The given exercise allows us to understand that the concept of race is highly reliant on the current social perception. Thus, it is prone to change over time. The United States Census Bureau understands that the racial classification used is imperfect and does not attempt to define the concept of race from a biological, anthropological, or genetic point of view. Meanwhile, information about ethnicity, in particular, helps to identify what health problems are characteristic of a specific group of population (Zuberi, Patterson, & Stewart, 2015). A race in American society may be fundamentally different from a race in Brazilian or Moroccan cultures. Another consequence is that race does not exist independently of social perceptions about it.

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Better Future Census Categories

For the 2020 Census and 2030 Census, a better categorization that would be able to show the diversity of the U.S. population should be applied. The category of African-American people is an outstanding example in order to educate the U.S. population on the concept of race (Feliciano, 2016). The given class is also vulnerable to further changes due to their historical background. It is better to form classifications based on ethnicity rather than race to avoid discrimination and show differences in society only. Thus, the diversity of humanity is the result of the long-term evolution of man, his adaptation to environmental conditions (Wiltgren, 2017).

Most scholars constituted classifications in which both the physical structure and the language or group of related words in which the people spoke were simultaneously used as the basis for distinguishing races (Feliciano, 2016). The 2020 and 2030 Censuses should include the difference in each ethnic category because both African-American and white people are the mixtures of various cultures. Africa contains Northern and Southern cultures, which widely vary in terms of religion and customs (Zuberi et al., 2015). In addition, the given specific categorization will allow educating the U.S. citizens more on the subject of race. Therefore, it is important to recognize the major difference in ethnicities of every racial background.


In conclusion, the idea of ​​the social construction of race is the basis on which modern theory refutes the initial assumptions used to justify the American practice of slavery. Generally, for many generations, racial differences in America were viewed as the basis and justification of slavery. However, modern theory believes that rather the practice of slavery has created in America the notion of the race known to us. As a result, it turns out that, despite the dependence of the concept of race on the ideas of people, a person cannot simply throw it out of his head. The reason for this is that the existence of a race does not depend on the subjective representations that are, the representations that any particular person possesses.


Feliciano, C. (2016). Shades of race: How phenotype and observer characteristics shape racial classification. American Behavioral Scientist, 60(4), 390-419.

Prewitt, K. (2018). The Census race classification: Is it doing its job? The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 677(1), 8-24.

Wiltgren, L. K. (2017). Doing ethnicity: Ethnic wordplay amongst youths. Childhood, 24(3), 333–347.

Zuberi, T., Patterson, E. J., & Stewart, Q. T. (2015). Race, methodology, and social construction in the genomic era. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 661(1), 109-127.

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